BOTTOMS UP AT ASIA’S BIGGEST BEER FESTIVAL
Beer festivals generally conjure up images of clangy, repetitive oompah bands, sausages, vaulted beer halls, and busty beer maids. In America we have our share of beer festivals, but they tend to be small caricatures of European festivals. I was surprised to find out that China actually does the beer festival pretty well, albeit with skewered, mysterious meats instead of sausages; and shirtless, busty men instead of busty waitresses.
The largest beer festival in the world is Octoberfest in Munich, Germany. The largest beer festival in Asia is The Qingdao International Beer Festival.
Qingdao is the home of the plentiful and cheap Tsingdao beer, which was founded by Germans when the city was under German control in the late 1800s. It’s an amazing seaside city, a great place to visit any time of year and an even better place to visit in late-August, when the beer festival is going on. The city gets up and gets hungover each year around the time since 1991, when the first festival was put together to celebrate the Tsingdao brewery’s 100th anniversary.
The city of Qingdao is in Shandong Province. Qingdao is halfway between Beijing and Seoul, South Korea. Most tourists arrive via Beijing, which takes about 5 hours by high-speed train (300 rmb / $45).
Many tourists arrive from Seoul, South Korea by overnight ferry (18 hours / price depending on berth class). This has always been my preferred method of arriving in Qingdao. Nothing says “new country” like stepping off a boat, passport in hand.
Qingdao also has an international airport with flights between other NE Asian cities and frequent flights to Shanghai and Beijing. The airport is 32 km (20 mi) from the city center and a taxi should cost about 130 rmb ($21 usd).
And onto the beer. The whole reason to come to the Qingdao Beer Festival is: a) beer and 2) people. You can find plenty here. On any day, you don’t have to walk far to find a beer in Qingdao, and the festival just makes it all the more sloppy.
Twenty years ago the festival was centered in old Qingdao and has gradually move to the outside of the city as it has gained in size. Over the past few years the festival has been held at Qingdao Century Square, about 15km (10mi) east of downtown (old Qingdao near the railroad station).
You can take Bus #321 from the old city to the beer festival, but the bus will be packed and my take up to two hours. If you can share a taxi, it’s not too expensive and it will save you some hassle. Don’t let the driver tell you there is an extra fee. I paid the meter price with my friends.
Lets not beat around the bush. We came here to get good and drunk like all the other foreign travelers had done. Lets do this:
I love the idea of a beer festival. However, the ‘entertainment’ at the Qingdao Fest was pretty lame. Most of it was nightclub style thump-thump singing and cheesy amusement rides. The festival does a good job of parading how the Chinese often misperceive foreign culture. That in itself is kind of entertaining, but still a fail.
Overall, the beer festival was a slight disappointment. However, there was one thing we couldn’t leave without doing. We had heard that foreign visitors are often “attacked” by heavy drinkers and challenged to a friendly drinking contest at their table. The four of us sat alone for most of the evening, until late, almost near closing time, when we were suddenly whisked away from our table by a group of beer-bellied, drunk-out-of-their-minds locals. Their table was lined with pitchers of undrank beer just waiting to be deflowered.
So, three of us were invited to the drunk table (Hye Mi was not, since they didn’t like Korea, but she still took pics). We quickly were chugging pitchers of golden, black and red beer. Some participants passed out. Some took their shirts off. Some nearly fell down. I’m proud to say, myself, Bill and Stevo made it to the end. We finished all the beer and still walked away. Of course, we pretended to be too drunk to go on so the Chinese drinkers did not ‘lose face’, but our night was just getting started. Thanks for the free beer.
In addition to the crappy pop music, another complaint of many visitors is the cost of food and beer at the Qingdao Beer Festival.
Entrance fee is just 30 rmb ($4.50). However, pitchers of beer were priced at 80 rmb ($13), with bottles of beer available for 20 rmb ($3).
In Qingdao city, you can find a draft beer on every corner for just 2 or 3 rmb, a bottle for 3 rmb and a pitcher for 10 rmb. Beer outside of the festival is cheap….very cheap.
The Qingdao Beerfest is about 10x the price of ‘normal’ Qingdao beer. Advice: find some locals eager to show off their prestige and drink their beer. It works to your advantage.
Hotels in Qingdao are reasonable, starting at 150 rmb and going up from there. As everywhere else in China, if you are an international traveler, stick with the hostels. There are a few ones in Qingdao. The best is:
Qingdao Kaiyue International Youth Hostel
31 Jining Rd, Shinan, Qingdao, Shandong, China, 266000
+(86) 532 8284 5450